Is There a Digital Dashboard in Your Future? – Article

[Note: This is another in a continuing series in which I am reposting some of my original drafts of published articles.]
You see a lot of discussion these days about digital dashboards and their potential. For examples in the legal profession, see the stories here, here and here. Another good overview is here. It’s not a complicated idea.
Anyway, I mention the dashboard concept because back in 2000, Microsoft was talking about a Digital Dashboard approach that excited me as much as any technology innovation I had seen to that point. And I wasn’t the only one. I wrote the following column, one of my favorites, back in May 2000. It was even reprinted on the Microsoft website for a time. Then, Microsoft dropped the initiative. I mean, it all but disappeared off the face of the earth.
I still like the article. With the idea of dashboards making a comeback (and justifiably so), I thought I’d reprint the article, even though the references are out of date. The concepts are still valid, and it’s a window, if you will, on an interestiing approach to technology that once burned bright, then faded away, and seems to be reappearing.The title question is still a valid one. I also think that today’s approach to using Outlook interfaces in law firms confirms my prescience about that issue, even if I was 5 or 6 years ahead of time.

Is There A Digital Dashboard in Your Future?
[NOTE: This article was originally written in 2000 and the specific product discussed in the article no longer exists.]
Microsoft’s Digital Dashboard points to the use of Outlook as a major development tool in the integrated Microsoft environment. And, in some ways, Digital Dashboard gives a glimpse of how Outlook might be used in the case management context using custom programming.
That said, there are two issues worth noting. First, Digital Dashboard is a high-end, sophisticated technique (although the actual dashboards can, if well-executed, be both powerful and simple, a combination that always attracts my attention) and requires the newest versions and most likely outside consultants. Second, there are the security issues that have been plaguing Outlook lately, which have to be addressed.
On the other hand, for those of you who live in your e-mail program, this approach, rather than the browser-based intranet, may be especially appealing because it recognizes that e-mail is the killer application of the Internet rather than “surfing.” As I say in the article, Digital Dashboard may give you a chance to get your own personal view of your information realm. By the way, for those of you who have programmed yourself to hate everything Microsoft, think in terms of the PIM or e-mail program you use rather than Outlook and see if the idea has any traction for you. I’m really intrigued by it.
A few months ago, I saw a demo of an application that gave me a glimpse of the computer desktop of the future, one in which incorporation of the Internet, personalization, integration of applications, and knowledge management appear at our fingertips. More important, at least to me, it showed a way to get some control over the tidal wave of information that seems to wash over us every day
The application is called “Digital Dashboard” from Microsoft.
In simplest terms, a Digital Dashboard is an entry screen or starting page built into Microsoft’s Outlook 2000, the e-mail and personal information manager that comes with Office 2000. Many people are using Outlook these days for e-mail, address books and calendars. If you are one of them and you are familiar with the “Outlook Today” screen, you will quickly understand the Digital Dashboard concept. For the rest of you, here’s a little background.
For several years, people have talked about intranets. Intranets are web sites accessible by members of a single organization. Intranet advocates have long championed intranets as a way to use the browser interface (typically Internet Explorer or Netscape’s Navigator) to provide easy access to information within an organization. Especially as people got used to full-time access of the Internet, the thinking went, the browser would be the program that people used most frequently and, therefore, the browser would become the primary tool to access all information.
A funny thing has happened on the way to this intranet vision: e-mail. It is not uncommon these days for attorneys to receive over 100 e-mails a day. Increasingly, the program we “live” in everyday is our e-mail program, especially when, as in the case of Outlook, it also contains our calendar and address book. The last several versions of Outlook have contained a feature called Outlook Today, a simple start page that gives you summary information about and access to your e-mail inbox, a week’s view of your calendar and a list of today’s tasks. Generally, the reaction of Outlook Today users is positive, but they wish it could do more.
Digital Dashboard takes the Outlook Today concept to the next level. You can think of a Digital Dashboard as an infinitely customizable version of Outlook Today or you can see it as the “dashboard” that gives you a view of and control over your information domain.
Here’s the trick Rather than use the browser as your primary access tool, Digital Dashboard uses Outlook and takes advantage of Internet functionality and features as well as the programming and integration underlying Outlook.
Digital Dashboards allow you to do two important things. The first is that they allow you to customize and personalize your view of “your” information, whether locally or on the Internet. The second is that they also allow you to pull key information out of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, databases and other applications and make that information available to you at your fingertips.
Think of your Digital Dashboard as your own personal web site (like http://my.findlaw.com – a site every lawyer should know). But it’s better than a web site because it also gives you access to your inbox, calendar and contacts, as well as every other feature of Outlook, including the powerful “public folders” for collaborative efforts. You can set up the views of those features you like and size them and move them where you want. You can add links to favorite Internet sites, stock or news tickers and even audio or video (a current camera view of your commute anyone?)
In addition, you can pull information from other applications, such as spreadsheets, PowerPoint slides and database reports, and make them available from your Digital Dashboard. Even better, you can place a chart tied to a spreadsheet or database on your Digital Dashboard and have the chart adjust to reflect the current figures in the underlying program. If using, for example, a time and billing program that is compliant with standards Microsoft uses, a managing partner could track at a glance work in progress, accounts receivable and the status of collections in the form of a chart that is always viewable right on the Digital Dashboard.
Each Digital Dashboard may be customized and personalized for each individual or you might roll out a firm-wide template. I have only touched the surface of the possibilities of Digital Dashboards, but I see a lot of potential.
The drawbacks? A Digital Dashboard is a high-end application that probably makes the most sense in large and medium-sized firms, although it certainly can be used by a small firm looking for an edge in technology. It is a strictly Microsoft application and requires Outlook 2000 and Office 2000. Powerful desktop computers and full-time high-speed Internet access are a must, but these are increasingly commonplace. Outlook users must also pay attention to outstanding security issues.
Although Digital Dashboards are based on HTML and other common web programming techniques, I think it will be rare where you will not want bring in an outside Digital Dashboard developer. The good news, though, is that I’ve talked with a number of Microsoft developers who like the potential of Digital Dashboards and can’t wait to get to work on development projects.
Are Digital Dashboards the solution for you? Those of you on an up-to-date Microsoft platform or planning to move there should take a hard look at the Digital Dashboard. You can get more information and examples at [Note: Link has been dead for many years].
The Digital Dashboard is an idea that had an immediate appeal to me and one that has stayed with me and become increasingly interesting. I like the idea of a development that focuses on the primary screen I live in everyday in a way that makes it more organized and more useful while giving me access at my fingertips to the information I need to use. And that is where the promise of Digital Dashboard lies.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
Learn more about legal technology at Dennis Kennedy’s Legal Technology Central page.
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